Where do we start with all we’re facing? This post points in a surprising direction.
The gap between the mainstream mind and the mind that sees the challenge we’re facing is a wide one. The gap between the two is huge, and the temptation is to approach it, if we can approach it at all, with trepidation. We wish the gap were smaller.
In fact most of us want to minimize the knowledge and tuck it away where we can control or manage it. This can go on for a long time.
Very good people feel this. Highly evolved, sensitive, skillful people, feel this. We’re so not alone if we feel this too.
We think we are though. We feel our particular unique symptomology of craziness, self-doubt, uncertainty, desperation, blame, fear and desolation are pathological. We fear that we’re more screwed up than others and that “they” understand and are handling it so much better.
Uh, no. We’re dealing with an unprecedented social situation here. It’s so all-encompassing and new that no one (almost literally no one) knows how to be with it. We’re learning together.
The “saving grace” is in knowing that, in naming and getting clear on the . . . bigness of this.
When we see and make room for how big it is, we start to see that we’re not crazy, not filled with self-doubt, not uncertain, not needing to blame, not afraid and desolate. We’re not making it up!
But when we pretend all is well or wellish, as “business as usual” would have us believe it is, we deny the part of us that knows better. Maintaining the difference between what we know and what we pretend makes us feel crazy, whatever crazy is to you.
When we can admit how big the problem is, especially with others, we’re not at odds with ourselves. We are where we are. This helps a lot.
Our situation is filled with unknowns. But it can be faced with courage, equanimity and grace. Trying to deny, control, manage, though puts us in the position of trying to deny reality.
My recommendation: Find safe, respectful, welcoming places to be with others who are not “in denial” of the scope of the issues we’re facing. Tell the truth and contribute to their well-being as they do to yours. Eventually we want safe groups like this in our neighbourhoods or blocks where we live. But we can do a lot of it online with people of good will anywhere.
See the next drop-in group – Hello Climate Change – under Groups above. Be sure you’re subscribed to hear of frequent group opportunities. Subscribe at the top right.
My friend John Heney has referred to our normal experience of the world as an “isolating personal performance.” This seems to me a telling phrase, one I can certainly relate to from personal experience.
In this essay, I want to take this experience of isolating performance and place it beside the experience of Presence or non-performance and offer some ideas about moving from one to the other. Along the way this I’ll show the relevance of this to our moment, to climate change and adapting to a future we may not be able to “fix.”
Warning: 1. Along the way there will be bad cartoons. 2. When I say that “we experience … [this or that],” I’m referring to the usual mindset, the everyday sleep the spiritual literature speaks to. That’s not all we are, of course. The everyday sleep IS the personal performance.
The purpose of the performance of an isolated self is to maintain or improve our right to belong well in the human community. The social norm is to want very much be on the good side of the status measurements that indicate worth: rich-poor, succeeding-failing, enough-not enough, blame-forgiveness, high-low, valuable-not valuable . . . Most of us, most of the time are involved with this.
So when we experience stress and difficulty, which we inevitably do, the natural thing to do is to look to that solitary self to understand what went wrong. Most therapy and most healing modalities presuppose this solitary self. It’s been with us throughout evolutionary history; it’s what we know. Yet the solitary self has a limited understanding of what’s going on. It sleeps or it wouldn’t experience itself as solitary and separate the way it does.
In a crude characterization a caveman might raise his eyebrows at, the world of the solitary self looks like this:
The normal sleep of everyday life is one of continual judgement and evaluation, trying to find a good place relative to others. The wider context isn’t in awareness.
Where is the wider context, you ask? Where is the deep love we know in all this?
It hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s all around. We’re inside it and we intuit it and sometimes experience it. But what’s in the foreground of normal awareness is our relationship to others, high and low. Compared to the immediacy of this normal perception, talk of love comes across as an abstraction, secondary.
The reality may be that we’re bathing in the greater reality, held by it continually. But we usually don’t see it. We’re spellbound by the drama of the world. There may indeed be a “divine comedy,” but usually we see something closer to the Jerry Springer show.
If we manage to move past or forget about the judgemental and evaluative mind, what’s already there shows up.
A second cave man drawing might show it like this:
We’re immersed in a greater whole, represented by the yellow. We’re touching everything through it since the wholeness is undivided. High and low, big and small don’t matter much.
Underneath and around the dramas where we protect our fragile self-sense and try and get by, we’re connected to others and made of the same stuff as them.
We’re each in exactly the same relationship to the whole as everybody else. This is the great leveler. The commonality sits underneath our seeming world of differences, the one in which the norm is to perform to prove our right to belong. When we’re noticing this greater whole, others appear not as other but as expressions of the same thing we are. Status and judgement are not very relevant or interesting. Uniqueness is valued because it gives us scope for creative partnerships.
”What is greatest in human beings is what makes them equal to everyone else. Everything else that deviates higher or lower from what is common to all human beings makes us less. If we know this we can develop a deep respect for every human being.”
(Bert Hellinger observed this, while/ after reading the Taoist source book,
Tao te Ching.)
The world of struggle for higher and lower status is easy to see when we look out at the entire world. It’s less visible to us at the local level but the same dynamic applies there.
If we’re able to move past it and see each other inside a larger whole, a different dynamic comes into view. The individual characteristics and experiences of others, represented below by the letters, are seen as values that each person in “the field’ has access to.
When the individuality of each person is genuinely welcomed, then the qualities of each become available to the others in the field. This sense of collective intelligence can be very palpable. It’s not a rare or difficult experience.
We’re in a different relationship to the whole and everything changes. Rather than holding on to some truth, what is is emerging in the moment.
This wholeness has many names and none. “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” Presence is a word for it that resonates with me but whatever we call it, the thing the word refers to isn’t a word. It’s what is and a direct experience of what is. Presence isn’t inert and doing nothing. It’s full of energy. It is energy. It’s effortlessly doing, wu wei, as some ancient Chinese called it.
To be an effective change agent, we’ll do well to be aligned with Presence, by whatever name. Otherwise we’ll project the game of opposites onto our enemies and their problems will become ours. Presence tends to integrate problems.
Another person’s difference is another way to experience how the wholeness is expressing. The possibilities for collaboration are literally infinite. Every person can combine with every other in any way. Basically, everything comes clear in Presence.
By definition the direct experience of this “beyond the opposites” noticing is neither hard not easy because . . . it’s beyond the opposites. The opposites are inside it. It’s a spontaneous manifestation like happiness or laughter and it’s not further away than them or more foreign than them.
But like them it can’t be ”accomplished” directly or by intention.
Presencing Practice, because of its simplicity, helps bypass some of the ways we get in the way and subscribers are welcome to join in a practice session. (Click on Groups above.)
Societies and groups can be relatively open to change, or relatively closed. They’re not all equal in this crucial respect. Some are much more able to support evolutionary growth than others. Societies with a rigid “ordained-by-god” structure can severely repress movements for growth, even over many centuries. Our own western democracies since the 18th century enlightenment have done a historically unprecedented job of being open to change and enjoy the success they do because of this openness. The changes that are coming though, due to climate change and related global effects, they’re largely closed off to, in denial of. They’re simply not equipped for it.
If we want to explore the future and truly pay attention to the science, including the possibility that we may not make it, we’ll need a different context. And the mainstream won’t give it to us because it doesn’t have it. The current mainstream context is business as usual, an extractavist economy going on forever. The actual context of our moment, as I see it, is that business as usual is on a very short timeline.
A future beyond denial won’t be given us. We’ll have to create and it for ourselves.
No small matter. I want to suggest some of the characteristics of the new context that we’ll need. It will need a lot of filling out by personal experience. In fact that personal experience and lived contribution is the essential characteristic, the realization that we’re in this together and can’t break through our own denial without others. Effectively, we become crucial parts of each other’s context. And that’s the first characteristic of the new is that it’s done relationally with others.
It also needs to be deeply open to unorthodoxy, to honest truths from participants.
It needs to be frequently reinforced and move toward being a default normal. If it isn’t the default normal, then the mainstream is the default normal, and the mainstream doesn’t understand what’s happening. You can’t visit a new context once a month or even once a week and have it take. Much like meditation, which is also a new context, it needs regular revisitation.
The new context needs to be economically sustained in a way that’s not completely derived from the mainstream economy. It will need to be sustained by the human values of the participants as they put their energy, including, likely, some of their money, behind what they want and value.
It should be replicable so that others can rapidly join in.
It needs to be open to people at many at different stages of awareness. Some people will simply realize that possible extinction means waking up now; others may be deeply experienced in Presence (a word for the ever-present divine context).
The personal, by which I mean the emotional, spiritual, and financial, cost of the new context needs to be explicit so people know what they’re getting into. If the new context is one of transparency, then the it needs to be very transparent about itself.
All these help support a new way of being with ourselves and with each other. There’s no limit to what that new way will give us. It’s “Presence,” all we ever wanted and it’s new every moment. The limitation is our commitment to the way things used to be.
I hope to have a group together that meets these criteria very soon. I’ll be holding a taster event July 6th or 7th, which you can read about here.
Here’s a simple exercise that will give you some useful information about how you’re viewing and feeling about climate change, or deep adaptation. (Deep adaptation is the art of having a heartfelt and engaged response to the notion that climate change might very well not be “fixable,” but rather a reality that we’re learning to live with.) The exercise takes only five or ten minutes and is safe and revealing. Take a few moments and try it.
Choose an object in your room to represent climate change (or deep adaptation) and put it where you can stand over or beside it. Put another object down to represent yourself, a pair of shoes for example. Put the object that represents you the distance away from “climate change” that feels right to you and stand in that place and consider climate change. Notice how your body feels contemplating it, how you feel. Take a little time to allow yourself to land here. Jot a few thoughts down if you like.
Then take the position of climate change and consider “you,” where you just were. Notice how it feels from there, and jot it down if you like.
When you’re ready go back to the first position and feel how that is, considering climate change. Notice anything that’s new or that’s true, or that you might want to do.
And that’s it, your through!
I’ve created an online event to do this in a group, [changed to]Sunday July 14th. We’ll do the exercise individually, then share what happened in small groups. We’ll alternate between the small group and the larger group as we consider what we’re hearing, how it is for us, and what we’re learning.
Please reply to this email and I’ll make sure you have all the details to attend the call.
Can it be we’re all grappling with various stages of denial, even those of us who – like me – have been working on it for a while? I think we do know what’s happening, but our knowledge doesn’t easily percolate down to where we actually live. I’ll share very recent thoughts, some coming into focus this morning on a springtime walk with my brother.
Truly knowing that profound change is on the way due to climate would mean the knowledge would settle down through all the layers of our self: the way we think of our self as we walk down the road, our sense of purpose around what we’re doing, what it is that we do, the way we present ourselves to our friends.
The network of our relationships is a kind of knowing too. It forms a body of knowledge about the world that’s updated moment to moment as we move about in it. Feedback from the world acts as an ongoing verification of what to expect, a proof that something is a certain way. And that means “business as usual.”
But sureness about coming climate change, or about social collapse isn’t something we know in an embodied way like this. Everything in our world counterindicates it. Everything shouts that that tomorrow will be just like today.
And so we don’t trust our deep knowing. We want to return to the public truth because it’s so much more comfortable there for us. It’s uncomfortable to be, seemingly, out there all alone with the weight of it. As David Whyte says:
Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world
you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
We don’t want to go down into facing or feeling it all. Who do we know who’s been there? We literally can’t imagine sensorially what that means: the body is way behind the intellectual appreciation. It takes time. And moreover, to do deeper work on denial, it’s almost essential to have a community to do it in. If we can find a little toe hold where it’s not business as usual, we can acclimatize and practice a new knowing, dress rehearse it, see if it’s real for us.
Our denial is strong and devious, like the devil. But the blood and the bones are deeper and they already know what denial doesn’t. A part of us intuits the truth, even though we deny it.
There’s a close analogy to perennial philosophy here and the whole search for wisdom. We deny climate change in much the same way that we deny what the greater part of us knows. We can’t believe it, or rather we refuse to believe it. The truth whispers to us but we go through the game of pretending we don’t know, indulging in a mad search for something easier to live with. Like the squirrel outside my window just now who’s considering crossing the road, we’re engrossed in a particular point of view on the world. The problem of denial is the problem of manning a lonely outpost on the world, determined to make our plan work, even though something simpler might work better. Even though what we want is already present, already here. The knowledge we want is deeper down, shared by all of us, part of the commons. It’s acceptance and Presence.
Wendell Berry says that we shouldn’t measure another’s intelligence by the mastery of some specialized information but by “the good order or harmoniousness of his or her surroundings.” In other words, it’s not what we know or believe about climate change but how that knowledge is living well inside of us, how we’re learning to embody and live it. Down there, everything is OK. Going deeper is a process for all of us and it takes time. As we do we’re likely going to find some of the wisdom we were always seeking. That’s just part of the territory down there. This is a good time to find meaning, even Presence, the realization that this moment contains what we is the one we always wanted.
And a free drop-in group to explore all this tomorrow, Sunday May 19th, at 1pm Eastern, 10 am Pacific, 6pm UK, etc. Send an email to andrewcartermacdonald at gmail dot com and I’ll send you the link.
A reality I’ve been slow to see is that the social contract we grew up with is connected to vast pools of loneliness and isolation . . . and that these are central drivers of our climate predicament. This social isolation is particularly difficult to see because in order to see it, you (we/I) have to step outside of it, witness it. Only then can you see where we were, where we came from. Otherwise, like the oft-cited fish in the water, we can’t see or feel where we are. And where we are is in a social system that, to a great degree, is organized around tokens of worth and status, represented by money. And this underlying structure affects us deeply and intimately. Our lives easily become about fitting into it. The economic system and the social system are inseparable like the chicken and the egg, parts of each other.
Here’s a chunk to digest, unless you’d rather spit it out because it’s not too tasty. Or maybe you know it already. It’s that we can’t meet the intense targets for CO2 reductions without changing the economic system we have. And we can’t change the economic system without changing the social system because they’re really different views of the same thing. And further, we can’t change the social system without changing ourselves. Everything that’s made us us has come about within the structure of the society that is currently failing and that needs to change.
The economic system, the social system, and little ole us are all parts of the very same thing. As this slowly starts to come into focus for us, and even when snippets of it do, we more or less immediately start to gravitate toward a new way of being together. The ones who feel the same disenfranchisement / reinfranchisement start to drift together. They’re hearing the same music.
Of the three systems, economic, social and personal, the social system is, perhaps the easiest to work with, the most amenable to change. For one thing it almost immediately makes demands on us as individuals to treat each other differently and in a way that’s often engaging and fun. The economic system is more deeply buried and so it’s easier to ignore and keep it out of sight for a while. But it’s there. I’ve been going to a wonderful festival in the woods near where I live near Ottawa, Canada for almost 40 years (Blue Skies). Much of the festival could have been part of a fair from the middle-ages. It’s a wonderful fantasy. But you go down the laneway past the gate and scattered in the woods are fields of cars from all over the world and a great deal of money underwriting the freedom festivities.
So activism’s effectiveness is tied into an ecosystem that contains social, personal, and economic aspects, none of which can be left out. It seems to me that to the extent we don’t know that, then under pressure activism will tend to become reactive, which is basically where the revolutions of the past started and ended.
In short, if we’re to reach our CO2 reduction goals, which radically change the economic structure, we’ll also have to invest deeply, and perhaps personally in the social structure. That basically means paying attention to the aspirations and gifts of activists, their individuality, rather than assuming these will take care of themselves or be nobly overridden for “the cause.”
And we can’t do all this en masse or all at once either, just the little part of it we have in front of us. And that we can do.
Your comments are a kind of love and are very welcome.
I was reminded of this poem by David Whyte the other day, speaking with a friend. It was the words “secret water,” that came to mind, though I couldn’t place them at the time.
THE WELL OF GRIEF
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
We were speaking about our climate emergency and she was saying that, mostly, people didn’t want to know. That made her think we probably wouldn’t make it. It’s a huge thing to say and yet you too have probably heard it from friends. I have old friends, who I mainly talk to by email now, who’s refrain after our lengthy explorations is often “we’re so f**kd.” Another, a sage old fellow with Albert Einstein eyes, doesn’t think our society can pull through either; he hasn’t thought so for a while. Personally I align with Jem Bendell’s view that collapse is inevitable, catastrophe probable, and extinction possible.
It’s hard to get my mind around the scope of this or get it into my body. The enormity seems surreal from my small town apartment that looks out over the pool hall and the street the trucks use to pass through town. I’m not always sure of my motives bringing up the question of our existential situation either. Who am I serving? It feels rude and I like people to think well of me. Yet I’m drawn back to the question like I am to a ragged tooth and I’m sure I’m not the only one. How do we be with what’s happening? It’s a social question as well as an individual one.
If there’s some depth that’s needed in answering the question I’m sure I’m not all the way there. I’m aware of the loss of the natural world. I love birds and the wild and for a long time I’ve been aware personally that that the birds and the wild north will not be, are not there, as they were. Already, here in Canada, much of the wild has been bent to our will. A part of me sees it’s in decline, that the wild things buffeted by winds that change the context from which their strength comes. Yet another part of me knows that whatever we call the force that brought nature into being in the first place will remain, will still be trustworthy and good. Perhaps that’s part of the secret water. The feeling is like witnessing the decline of parents as they lean toward the ground. You may spend a long time concerned for their health and you don’t really cry and don’t feel the intensity until, suddenly it seems, it’s happened and it’s over.
If you’re not too young you may remember the line from the John Lennon song, “Nobody told me there’d be days like this”. Nobody told us about the depths of the climate trouble we’re in. We discover it by ourselves, one by one, digging down through layers of misinformation and denial. And it seems that there’s always more depth, more to let go of.
I like exploring these big questions with others. Almost always something always comes up that’s more than we could have imagined on our own.
To that end I’ll be holding Sunday online video conversations (in May 2019) for those holding these challenging questions, and perhaps wondering how others are too. There’ll be a little poetry to prompt the imagination, some speaking, mostly not by me, and some listening, which is a harder skill.
Warm thanks to the 12 who took the plunge and showed up May 5th! I’ll send out a link and reminder to May 19th call shortly.
See here for Climate Change “Inner Work” link.
Wow to the Extinction Rebellion activists for what they’ve accomplished in the last ten days. Just wow! Particularly in London, England, but worldwide – including where I am in Ottawa Canada and probably in your country too – ordinary people / activists brought a huge new intensity to the climate emergency.[If you missed this dramatic upscaling of the climate movement – the mainstream media outside of England largely ignored it – you can catch up here. Lots on youtube too under Extinction Rebellion!]
How does this affect us personally? That’s a question I’m asking myself. I’ve become more aware of my private climate denial, even in the last week. I’ve known the facts and intellectually explored the terrain of climate change for a long time. I wrote a book that’s partly about how unconscious social pressures keep us from questioning and moving past social norms lest we be excluded and “not belong.” We’re expected to minimize climate change without even noticing, as part of being a normal citizen. But my knowledge didn’t stop me from being much more silent than I could have been. And it didn’t lead me to action.
That’s why I think what’s happening now is so important: Recent actions by Extinction Rebellion have, to a degree, changed the social norm and increased the permission level to take climate change very very seriously. And that opens up the door to changing everything. To use another house object metaphor, everything’s on the table now.
AND … bringing the abstract knowledge of climate change down into the body and into our social relationships will take time, energy and work for each individual. It’s not done for us. Even if we can see the road we still have to walk it. Learning how to do that with integrity and yes, joy, even as we don’t look away, is the challenge. How much do we actually want it? A friend pointed out this week, you can check your commitment to something you want when you look back later at what actually happened. If something else happened it was because you had a hidden agenda you didn’t want to see – maybe you wanted something easier.
I feel encouraged when I look around me at how others are being. This moment is like canoeing in white water. At a certain point you simply can’t turn back. It’s too late to turn back. You are committed to the river. It’s not that you decide to be committed at that point. You are committed! And I’m glad I have company for whom there is no going back.
Because . . .
The climate emergency means system change and system change doesn’t happen through individual consciousness alone. It happens (s**t happens) when numbers of individuals freely contribute their vital energy and intelligence to something greater than themselves. It happens when they do it freely even if there are other voices in them that aren’t so sure, that are scared, anxious, uncertain, cynical, or wanting escape. It’s normal to not be all aligned all the time.
At least I hope it is because I hear those other voices too. The enormity of the task ahead can hardly be overstated. Collectively, we humans have to avert, or more likely minimize, vast climate effects that are already in motion and that are likely to happen at a scale we’re not familiar with. Unprecedented challenge pushes us up against our previous limits and puts choices before us that, by their nature, we don’t know how to navigate. We’ll have to go beyond ourselves to meet them.
That’s why naming the personal challenges and their extent is important because suddenly, knowing together what we’re facing, we don’t have to hide. Talking frankly, and especially listening to others, brings relief and ease, puts the Presence in this present moment.
You’re invited to join a free exploration of the “inner work” side of climate change online this Sunday at 3pm Eastern time. Details are here.
(Feature photo of Ottawa action by John MacDonald. Click for set.)